Edge of the Cedars Manager Teri Paul was recently approached by concerned members of the community regarding a piece of sculpture that has been displayed near the entrance to the museum since 1989.
The sculpture is a representation of actual Ancestral Puebloan rock art imagery from Canyon de Chelly, and is very similar to other rock art depictions of the symbol of Fluteplayer, often referred to as Kokopelli, that are found throughout San Juan County, the Four Corners Region, and beyond. The symbol is found as far away as South America and Canada.
Some community members found the anatomically correct sculpture to be offensive and requested that it be removed, and park staff learned that a protest was planned by this group. At the same time museum staff have received many calls from people that heard of the controversy and were upset that the artwork was being censored and they wanted it to stay. Utah State Park officials consulted with the artist, Joe Pachek, and other community members to find a solution.
Rather than remove the statue, the decision is made to move it to another location on park grounds where it is less visible to the street. That way, visitors and locals may continue to enjoy the sculpture when they visit the museum.
Part of the community was deeply offended by the artwork, on the other hand another part of the community was deeply offended by what they saw as censorship of art. Park managers were concerned that the controversy was getting in the way of the mission of the museum by a work of art that is not primary to that mission. They hope this compromise provides the best answer for everyone.
Teri Paul adds, “We currently have six sculptures by artist Joe Pachak in the museum sculpture garden. We plan to create an interpretive exhibit about the sculptures explaining their significance as representations of rock art.
“Often Ancestral Puebloan left images along their migration routes that may be interpreted as clan symbols. It is not unusual for a contemporary culture such as ours, to put it’s own interpretation on the symbols of people who lived long ago.”
Edge of the Cedars was set aside by the Utah Legislature in 1976 to educate the public about the Native American cultures of the Four Corners Region and to house and care for the archaeological materials – documents and artifacts – of San Juan County.
It is a marvelous place to learn about past cultures and also to learn that contemporary Native American culture traditions are alive and thriving. Paul said, “I invite everyone to come to the museum and experience what we have to offer. We are a public museum with world-class exhibits and a research facility known throughout the world.”